November 07, 2017

Scholar Voices: My Journey to Freiburg, Germany

Earl Woods Scholar Phuong Vo in Germany
Phuong with her German classmates

Born in Vietnam, raised in Southern California since the age of 9 and currently a senior at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, Earl Woods Scholar Phuong Vo has created a home for herself in many different cities throughout the world. Last fall, she added a new city to that list—Freiburg, Germany. Through her study abroad program, IES Language and Area Studies, Vo, an economics major and a German minor, spent a year immersed in German life, culture and education. Keep reading as Phuong shares highlights from her time abroad in this edition of Scholar Voices.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to study in Freiburg, Germany during my junior year of college. Freiburg itself is a very cool and small city, very green and alternative. I lived in an area called Vauban, where the student dorms prides itself as being zero carbon emission. Here everyone rides bikes to get around. And as the saying goes, when in Rome do as the Romans do, so I got a myself a bike and worked hard to navigate the German traffic system. It took me a while to figure out where all the bike paths were, but it was very fun to ride to school instead of sitting in a Strassenbahn, especially on those few days when the sun was out!

Earl Woods Scholar Phuong Vo and German students

I lived in a student dorm that was set up like an apartment, called a WG, with four other German students. Most of the time, I spent my free time in this WG talking with the people there. My flat mates also became my closest friends while in Freiburg. The German students here cooked a lot, almost every day, which was such a shock to me as I have never cooked before until I came here. But that meant I got to eat delicious home cooked German food everyday, and the only tradeoff was that I had to do the dishes! Together, with my flat mates, I did a lot of Freiburg things, such as going to the flea market together, fix my bike tire that went flat four times, spray paint the WG, and of course drinking a lot of good German beer while discussing how terrible capitalism is.

Earl Woods Scholar Phuong Vo with friends

Since I had a lot more free time here than I do at Williams College, I discovered things that I’m interested in as well. I learned how to play Klezmer music with a German student quartet group. And I participated in my dorm’s student government, called Dorfrat, as the international student representative. With this role, I not only gained a lot of leadership skills, but I had no choice to speak German at all meetings. And the best part—the  student government throws a legendary summer festival every year for the city of Freiburg, and I had a lot of fun setting up this festival as well as participating in it!

And of course, everyday I was patiently waiting for the rain to stop and the sun to come out. But even when the sun didn’t shine, I had a memorable time eating great German food, washing dishes, and quatschen-ing—or talking rubbish, as the Germans call it!


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